In This Together, Inc., the social services agency founded in 2004 to provide HIV/AIDS services to New Orleans' at-risk communities, is ceasing client services today, having failed to secure a round of funding that would allow the agency to continue serving more than 225 mostly minority individuals with HIV.
The reason, according to executive director Michael Hickerson, is the City of New Orleans' inability to distribute mandated federal funds.
In an interview this morning, Hickerson said, "Its so unfortunate that nonprofits [agencies] that are making positive differences in this community are getting no support, while other nonprofits that have less of an impact get all the funding they need in a timely manner. I hope people can read between the lines here."
In a statement about the agency's closing, In This Together has promised to "assist with the transition of its clients to other agencies, some of which are also in jeopardy of closing due to the inability of the City of New Orleans to effectively administer mandated programs and available federal funding in a timely manner."
(Gambit attempted to reach Fran Lawless, MHA director in the city's Office of Health Policy for AIDS Network Funding, but her telephone number listed on the city's website was not working.)
Hickerson estimates that 75-80% of ITT's clients were African-American, but adds that the group also served "non-traditional gay white guys" who felt they didn't, for various reasons, "fit into the mainstream gay community."
According to figures on the group's website, New Orleans ranks 7th nationwide in HIV/AIDS cases; part of the Tremé neighborhood ranks first in HIV/AIDS case rates in the city; more than 70% of all new HIV/AIDS diagnosed individuals living in the New Orleans area are African-American; and approximately 85% of all women living with HIV/AIDS in the New Orleans area are African-American.